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Thursday, April 2, 2020

adobo FOI 2019: The Rice Revolution — How Mixed Data, Research, and Passion Helped Out Affected Farmers Of Typhoon Yolanda

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To help the Philippines reclaim the title of the world’s best rice producers — this is but among the many goals that husband and wife duo Patrick Renucci and Rachel Renucci-Tan have as they build up their company, Chen Yi Agventures. And one might argue that they have begun making that a reality as they pave the way for revolutionizing rice production with their brand, Renucci Rice. In fact, it was just recently that their Dalisay rice was named as the world’s third best by the World Rice Conference 2019.

At this year’s adobo Festival of Ideas, the two will be talking about how they made this feat possible, and how data and research-driven methods have allowed the farmers they work with to drastically increase harvest yield and quality, a demonstration on how The Connectivity Economy pushes innovation by putting collaboration over competition. Their talk will be entitled “Rice Revolution.”

Head-On and Never in Half Measures

Patrick and Rachel once lived busy lives in Paris. Patrick founded and ran Median Impressions, one of the largest printing companies in the city. Rachel, on the other hand, was an investment banker managing over a billion dollar fund in a company based in Hong Kong and London. While most couples in their position might not think about restructuring their lives, both of them answered to a higher calling that they simply could not ignore — helping the farmers that were affected by super typhoon Haiyan (named Yolanda in the Philippines).

Photograph by Joseph Pascual

The couple remember how it was when they first saw the images on their television screen. “We were affected because we know the Philippines a little bit and we understand that calamity can happen but the problem with the Typhoon Yolanda, we saw for several days that nobody was able to go there and to help so we were so affected and the image was so hard on TV that we decided, my wife and I, we discussed and say maybe it’s time for us to change the way we are living and to change the way we are earning money and let’s try to go there and see what kind of business we can do to help the people recover,” shared Patrick.

Pivoting sounds like a difficult task as it is, but the Renuccis went beyond that. Selling off all their assets to help rebuild a province, the two packed their bags and made their way to the Philippines no holds barred.

Rachel explained, “I think if we are going to invest the amount we’ve invested into the province of Leyte, which meant building the most technologically advanced rice processing complex in Southeast Asia in Alangalang Leyte and to mobilize thousands of farmers, we can’t do it in half-steps. We can’t be living in Paris half the time, Hong Kong sometimes, and maybe once a month, we’ll graze into Leyte, it doesn’t work that way. When we decided to do this, to invest all that we had in this project, to transform the rice industry in the Philippines, we have to give all of ourselves, we have to go into it head-on and never in half measures.”

Redefining Food Production, Redefining Filipino Rice

Patrick and Rachel didn’t have any relatives in Leyte and were coming in not knowing what to expect. What they did discover, however, was the vast rice fields empty and without farmers tilling the land. The two would then survey 4,000 farmers to understand their needs and problems, and then began finding solutions.

The result of their research would be the Renucci Rice Partnership Program, an end-to-end initiative that enables local Leyte farmers to produce grains and earn a living wage by providing them with all the farming inputs that they need and helping them from land preparation, planting, and harvesting.

Through the program, farmers are given access to low interest loans in kind (fertilizers, pesticides, and a single kind of high-yielding seed). This helps the farmers gain access to credit in a country where alternative collaterals have yet to be accepted, and true financial inclusion is still far from being achieved.

The program also grants them access to the company’s state-of-the-art and fully-automated processing center that drastically increases both quantity and quality of the grains.

“They were harvesting around 50 cavans or 50 sacks per hectare so that’s around two tons per hectare of palay. Some of our famers that joined our program reached already over 200 cavans per hectare. Some of the farmers, they reached ten tons of palay, so it’s huge,” Patrick shared.

Chemical free, and wholly produced in Leyte, the rice is as pure as it can be, hence the name Dalisay — a Filipino term for genuine, true, and pure. The rice, as the couple explains, is also a stark contrast from what’s readily available in most markets as imported grains are either mixed in together or mixed with the local produce before they are sold.

A Tide That Lifts All Boats

In a landscape where competition is known to drive innovation, the Renuccis are redefining success by proving how collaboration works far better. After all, the two realized that food production isn’t just an issue limited to farmers in Leyte.

“The rice crisis, it’s more complex. It’s not only about the farmer. If we want to solve the problem of rice crisis in the Philippines, we need to go beyond the farmer. That means maybe we have to adjust some laws, we need to do compact farming so we need to work altogether. We cannot just rely on the farmer and trying to help the farmer. It’s not enough,” Patrick expounded.

The dream of the Renuccis is for the entire supply chain to be uplifted. By working closely with different links in the value chain, different sectors, they are hoping that the entire industry will improve. This is the only way for their end goal, which is to help provide farmers a sustainable livelihood, to be achieved at its fullest potential.

“Everyone in the value chain, or every other stakeholder, even our competitors have to be successful because imagine if all the rice producers in the Philippines were successful,” said Rachel. She believes the work begins with the farmers, but it is in the success of the community, even the success of their competitors, that the industry can move on.

Patrick added, “We want our model to be replicated and to be successful all around the Philippines, and maybe around the world. We are showing the rest of the world that sustainable business is the only one that we’ll be okay on the long run because you need to involve all the stakeholders, and all the stakeholders have to be earning money.”

Catch these agents of innovation in this year’s festival. Tickets are available through www.adobofestivalofideas.com/tickets/ or ticket2me.net/e/4067/tickets at PHP 5,000 at regular price and PHP 2,000 for students, inclusive of coffee and lunch. There’s also a group package of 10+1 tickets for PHP 50,000. For further inquiries, reach out to the adobo FOI team through our website at www.adobofestivalofideas.com or shoot an email to events@adobomagazine.com, or call up (+632) 884 50218.

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